Innovation vs. Invention: Will Innovation Beat Invention?
A lot of people get confused with the words “invention” and “innovation“. In the business world, most entrepreneurs use them interchangeably.
While they are closely related, being able to pinpoint what separates them makes a difference.
As most organizations think these terms are the same, what draws the boundaries between them? Which one gets more credit than the other?
In this article, let us discuss how “innovation” differs from “invention”. Once we achieve that part, let’s see which process is more important for your business to focus on.
Did Thomas Edison invent the lightbulb?
For years, people assumed it was Thomas Edison who invented the lightbulb. Further research, however, says otherwise.
The concept of incandescent lighting began 79 years before Edison patented the first-ever commercially successful lightbulb. What makes this even more interesting is that this idea got into the hands of numerous scientists way before Thomas was able to lay his hands on it.
For the most part, there were at least twenty scientists who made an incandescent lamp before him. Yet many years later, it was Thomas Edison who got the credit of “inventing” it.
From this scenario, we understand that it wasn’t Edison who gave birth to the concept of incandescent lighting, nor was he the first person to create the “bulb” as it is. However, he exceeded its earlier versions and ended up being historically acknowledged for it.
Technically, Edison was able to achieve this because of three things:
He created a lightbulb with materials that are practical for commercial production.
He had an efficient design that made power distribution economically viable.
He achieved a higher vacuum (earlier versions of light bulbs had this to prevent filaments from burning) than others.
In short, he redeveloped light bulbs and enhanced them in a way that others didn’t. His version was the best at that time, and it was something that others found hard to outdo.
What makes “innovation” and “invention” different?
The situation between Edison and the other lightbulb inventors perfectly mirrors the difference between “innovation” and “invention”.
When talking about these terms, people often confuse one with the other. What makes differentiating them even harder is that Oxford Languages, Google’s official English dictionary, names “innovate” as a synonym of the word “invent”.
Seeing how something so widely recognized interchanges these terms, it’s a good thing that Merriam Webster has included a section that distinguishes these two.
In one of the notes listed below its definition of “invention”, Merriam Webster states that invention is a product of one’s imagination. While innovation, on the other hand, is a change made to an existing product or idea.
To explain this even further, it cited the telephone as an invention and the smartphone as an innovation.
This example reiterates the truth that while to invent is to create something new, to innovate means to improve, redevelop, or significantly contribute to a process, product, or service that already exists.
An invention is something that has never occurred in the face of the earth before. It’s something that no one has ever seen. It’s the first of its kind.
Meanwhile, innovation is an invention’s evolution. It’s a better version of something — a repurposing of an existing idea or technology.
Why do they say invention is easy and innovation is genius?
Inventing and innovating are processes that both require one’s full attention and careful study. However, several people say that invention is easy and innovation is genius because of two reasons.
1. Innovation involves more than just a single idea.
Innovation involves knowing what your strategies are, as well as understanding how you can consistently execute them to create a mark in the industry. These strategies come from a constant generation of ideas that are well-defined and carefully studied.
As an organization, you have to be open-minded to changes and choices that will foster growth. You have to consider other people’s insights, particularly that of your employees, and identify whether the things they’re proposing are sustainable.
You have to keep a bank of ideas and continually ideate to:
Participate in trends
Improve current work
Ensure business survival
Achieve economic growth
Gain competitive advantage
Discover and undertake opportunities
Pull off higher business revenue gains
Improve customer performance and satisfaction
Enhance employee performance and satisfaction
2. Innovation involves knowing what you want and how to achieve it.
Implementing innovation projects must involve key performance indicators. Aligning these indicators with your business strategies is imperative in securing optimal success and growth.
Establishing metrics requires meticulous planning, tracking, and development. It is vital not only in securing the success of innovation projects but also in understanding what improvements are necessary to make along the way.
They are also essential in setting targets and driving investments in companies. The indicators provide a concrete direction for innovation projects that encourage organizations to focus on areas that matter most. They also influence the kind of strategies and methods to follow.
That is why most of the world’s game-changing products are often innovations rather than inventions.
Most of the world’s greatest innovators are those who have a clear understanding of who they are, what they want, and how to achieve things. They spend their time, energy, and resources on integrating existing inventions with their own ideas and creativity.
You could say they have enhanced and redefined things according to their own interpretation, along with their very own goals and desired features.
However, once we go a few decades back, we’ll figure out that Apple wasn’t really the first company to come up with a portable music device, nor was the iPod the first-ever music player to bag thousands of songs on its tiny body.
But even then, the iPod was still considered as one of the world’s most iconic innovations because it revolutionized the music industry by creating a music player that surpassed all of its predecessors in every feature possible.
Not only was it smaller in size and greater than most MP3 players in terms of storage capacity and battery life. It also had a user-friendly interface, a design that solved compatibility issues, and a system that allowed syncing from computers to MP3 players.
In the end, Apple’s success with the iPod made it a significant game-changer in the tech industry.
Which among invention and innovation should businesses focus more on?
In a business sense, innovation is a part of strategic renewal, along with invention and improvement.
Companies that are on the invention level dedicate a large portion of their resources to a research and development department. They aim to create never-before-seen products and services and eventually label them as the organization’s “intellectual property”.
However, intellectual properties come with a long list of risks that include data theft, divulgence of confidential information, and accidental breaches through corporate emails, messaging apps, or file-sharing tools.
Improvements are projects that refine products, services, and/or processes while already in use. These are low-risk procedures that only require a small investment in time and money. There is almost no research necessary to see that an improvement is worthwhile.
Innovation on the other hand occurs when you introduce something new into your organization that may not be the first of its kind, but is relatively new to your organization and your customers.
Moreover, innovation is a customer-centric process.
Companies aim to create products with elements that are beneficial to both the organization and its customers — not only to strengthen customer relationships and increase sales but also to respond to the needs of the market by solving real-time problems and creating value.
However, this doesn’t mean that the essence of inventing is to be downplayed, nor should inventors be unrecognized in this time and day.
Innovation should be a process pursued by organizations because innovators are the real game-changers. Their innovations made them market leaders by successfully transforming inventions into something that changed people’s way of living.
Why Focus More on Innovation
Innovation combines invention, creativity, consumer behavior, resources, and business models to solve real-time problems and target consumers.
The problem with organizations nowadays is that they focus too much on making groundbreaking products and technologies they often forget to add their customers into the equation.
This is where they forget that the most compelling products and services are those that have integrated existing knowledge and ideas with practical, unique, and creative solutions.
Now that you understand why you need to focus more on innovation, here are five things that you should consider in transforming your business from invention to innovation:
Customers: You have to know and understand the behavior of your customers to effectively come up with something that they would love to have, particularly something that solves their problems and enhances their way of living.
Business value: The main objective of innovation is to provide added value to customers and employees. Aside from making sure that your innovation ends up being useful, introduce more features that would make your product, process, or service worth every penny to spend and every effort to implement.
Competitive advantage: Despite improving existing ideas, incorporate something that would still make your product “your own.” Insert artistry. Make it unique and compelling. Conceptualize what makes it different from the rest. Make it stand out.
Business alignment: Conceptualize your innovation around the key strategic focus of your business and its objectives.
Execution: Distinguish processes, risks, resources, suppliers, and entities to partner with. See to it that everyone and everything on board follows and understands the organization’s vision.
Next steps: Innovation beats invention as it celebrates the integration of existing knowledge and ideas with unique, practical, and creative methods. It transforms people’s way of living and promotes a culture of creativity among organizations.